03/03/2015 11:35AM

Santa Anita sees gains in handle, attendance


ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita has shown growth in all-sources handle and attendance well past the halfway point of the winter-spring meeting.

Through Saturday, the 39th day of the 68-day meeting, track officials said all-sources handle had risen 6 percent compared with a similar period at the 2013-14 meeting, but ontrack handle is down less than 1 percent. Attendance has risen 6 percent.

The meeting began Dec. 26 and continues through April 19. The track’s spring-summer meeting begins April 25 and runs until June 28.

Growth at the current meeting has occurred in advance of two of the track’s biggest days – Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Handicap program and the April 4 card that features the $1 million Santa Anita Derby.

Track president Tom Ludt said over the weekend that he was encouraged by recent numbers but saw opportunities for further growth.

“When you look at all the tracks, we’re doing well,” Ludt said. “We’ve got a long way to go to the numbers that I want.”

Ludt said that handle from account wagering has shown a 13 percent increase from last year. He questioned whether some of that increase is from bettors using account-wagering services on tablets or mobile phones while attending races at Santa Anita.

“You don’t know how much of that is being placed ontrack,” he said.

Ludt said a crowd of 35,000 is possible for Saturday, especially with weather forecasts suggesting fine conditions. The track’s biggest day in February occurred Feb. 7, when Shared Belief, the champion 2-year-old male of 2013, beat California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year, in the San Antonio Stakes. The program had attendance of 21,522 compared with 10,043 on the corresponding day in 2014.

Last Saturday, the cancellation of live racing at Gulfstream Park midway through the program because of a torrential downpour gave Santa Anita a boost, particularly from offtrack betting sources. The program had an all-sources handle of $14,232,914 compared with $10,690,105 on the corresponding day last year, when Santa Anita’s card was plagued by wet conditions.

Part of the gain in handle at the current meeting can be attributed to average field size. Through Sunday, fields had averaged 8.53 runners per race for 344 races. During a similar time frame last year, the track was averaging 7.54 runners per race but had run 368 races. The entire 2013-14 winter-spring meeting averaged 7.66 runners per race.